By Zac B. Sarian
In a limited space, an all-encompassing discourse on the future of agriculture in the country would be quite presumptuous. What we would like to do is to focus on the family farms, which comprise more than 80 percent of all farms in the Philippines. These are farms that are as small as half a hectare.
Why focus on them? Well, if the productivity and profitability of these farms can be improved, the positive effects for the farmers and the economy would be tremendous. It would mean inclusive growth. The farmers would make more money to buy their basic necessities, money to send their children to school, and the chance to enjoy some of the good life. The small farms could also help ensure food security.
The agenda of the government and the private sector should be to help make small-scale farming a viable agribusiness. You say small farms are too small to generate big enough profit? Well, we have witnessed many small-scale farmers who are able to earn good income from small parcels of land.
One good example is Wilber Sabatchi who used to be a caregiver in Israel for seven years and a factory worker in Korea for four years where he received the equivalent of P40,000 to P50,000 a month.
When he finally finished his overseas contract, he bought a small farm in Benguet to become a small vegetable farmer. To his pleasant surprise, he could make more money growing hybrid bell pepper. For instance, a couple of years back, he planted 5,000 seedlings of Red Star sweet pepper, a hybrid, on 1,500 square meters. From that cropping cycle of four months, he was able to make R150,000 after expenses. That was bigger than what he could save as an OFW in four months.
Another inspiring example is Johnny Gatuz of San Rafael, Bulacan. For a few years now, he has been renting land in San Rafael to grow his favorite high-value crops. In one portion, last January, he planted 1,000 seedlings of Red Royale, a hybrid papaya. Starting April, he has been harvesting P1,600 to P2,400 worth of green fruits every two days. He is also making money from other crops.
How were these two small farms able to make good income? By using improved farming technologies. In both cases, Wilber and Johnny planted hybrid seeds that produced higher yields and commanded a good price. They learned the fine points of growing hybrid seeds through the guidance of the technicians of the seed companies.
What can the government do to help small farmers? Provide more farm-to-market roads. The government and the private sector, including foundations like SM Foundation, can collaborate to undertake hands-on training in growing vegetables and other crops. Such trainings should include improving the financial literacy of the farmers.
The farmers need affordable loans to buy the improved seeds and inputs. In the 1970s, the Development Bank of the Philippines could extend loans to farmers at the rate of six percent interest per year for a term of 10 years. Why can’t the same government financial institutions lend at the same affordable terms today? With low-interest loans, more small farmers will be able to undertake diversified farming projects for more income.
MECHANIZATION – Farm mechanization is the order of the day to enable farmers to accomplish various chores faster and more economically. How can you mechanize small farms?
One way is the Agri-Tech Integrated Services Company (ATISCO) based in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. The company has targeted the rice farmers by offering them mechanized services to plant rice. The company has a pool of farm machinery and equipment that include tractors and attachments to prepare the land, plant the seedlings by mechanical transplanters, harvest the grains, dry the palay, and even milling them.
ATISCO is also into mechanization of onion production in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. It has machines to form planting beds, install plastic mulch, and even harvest the onions. ATISCO has made an agreement with the owner of a big cold storage facility in Mindoro so the harvest could be stored for longer periods.
There are other creative schemes. Let’s hope the bright boys of the Department of Agriculture as well as the big players in the industry can come up with doable schemes to improve the productivity and profitability of small family farms.